Ex-jute worker fears asbestos at former Dundee mill caused cancer

© SuppliedIan Mitchell.
Ian Mitchell.

A former jute mill worker believes his cancer was caused by asbestos exposure during his years working in Dundee – and he fears many others could also be at risk.

Ian Mitchell, 72, worked in quality control at the Wallace Craigie jute works – also known as Halley’s Mill – in the 1960s.

Last August, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos that takes several decades to develop.

Having pored back over years of employment, Mr Mitchell believes he was exposed to asbestos whilst working at Halley’s Mill.

And he says the sudden demolition of the jute works in May last year may be putting those who live and work in its vicinity at risk of exposure.

“Looking at all of the options, I came to the conclusion that the most likely place was Halley’s Mill,” Mr Mitchell said.

“I’ve got no idea how long the cancer has been there, just that it’s asbestos-related.”

© DC Thomson
The partly demolished Halley Mill.

Working in the mill at the age of 17, Mr Mitchell recalls the plentiful use of asbestos, long before its dangers were recognised and it was banned.

The factory used asbestos in its machines and for lagging its overhead pipes.

The jute sacks that brought asbestos in were recycled in the machines – with the workers’ heavy dustcoats likely caked in the substance as a result.

Mr Mitchell, who now lives in the English town of Bury St Edmunds, believes there may still be other workers out there who could have also developed mesothelioma.

He hopes other workers will reach out to him via his lawyer to add strength to a case he could bring against Dundee City Council and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The two bodies are responsible for enforcing regulations at the Halley’s Mill site.

Mr Mitchell’s lawyer, asbestos specialist Phoebe Osborne of Ashtons Legal, believes the stories of other jute workers are essential for his case.

Neither the council nor the HSE appear to have kept any records of asbestos on the site – which may have put the public, past and present, at risk.

She said: “Given the dangers involved in asbestos, it seems astonishing that the city council has no records of the site and apparently little interest in discovering what happened.

“We are investigating further. Meanwhile, Mr Mitchell is appealing to anybody who might recall working with him back in Broughty Ferry Road or Brown Constable Street.

“He recalls two old workmates in particular, Tommy Flynn and Jim Gove, boilermen who were also based in Brown Constable Street. But there may be many others who were employed by William Halley who remember what conditions were like and the presence of asbestos.”

Inquiries are still continuing into the legality of the demolition of Halley’s Mill. Dundee City Council, Police Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal Service all told the Tele that inquiries are ongoing.

The local authority wouldn’t say if it is looking into the possibility of asbestos on the site.

Mr Mitchell believes an urgent investigation is needed.

He added: “Asbestos just wasn’t seen as a problem at the time. There must be other people who were exposed to it. It won’t change anything for me at this stage, but it might help others.”

If you think you’ve been affected please contact: Phoebe.Osborne@ashtonslegal.co.uk or 01223 431159 / 07483 928171.